Single stage. Launched 11 June 1959 at 22:33. Apogee 499 miles.

BK04, the first re-entry experiment with a separating spin-stabilised head, was very successful. The main stage reached its designed burn-out velocity and both guidance and control of the vehicle were satisfactory. Telemetry on the main stage worked throughout the flight to apogee and re-entry, and valuable information on systems performance was obtained. The head separation, turnover and spin-stabilisation system was successful. The head re-entered (200,000 ft) at 11,740 ft/second, telemetry worked throughout to impact, except for a short period during re-entry, and some information on re-entry dynamics and heating was obtained. Recovery of the head with the patches of materials under test attached to it yielded valuable information on ablation during re-entry.

The photograph in Figure 90 is a time lapse picture of the re-entry of the head and of the main rocket body. (The stars in the background appear as streaks due to the long exposure time.) This was one of the reasons Woomera was chosen for
the trials: clear skies with no cloud or smog (the flights were also scheduled for moonless nights, for obvious reasons). A further advantage of the range is that the remains of both the head and the rocket body could be collected and examined later (provided they could be found!).

Подпись: Figure 90. Re-entry photograph for the first separating head, BK04.

Подпись: Э0О IOOO 1020 1040 1060 1080 1100 TIME (SECS) Figure 91. Graph showing the re-entry head temperatures for the BK04 flight. These data showed that the peak temperatures were close to the predicted value, and that any reentry head based on this design would not burn up on re-entry.

Data was sent from the re-entry head by radio (later heads would have a tape recorder) for analysis. The graph in Figure 91 below shows the temperature at the head of the re­entry body.3 The results from the flight vindicated the choice of design: the heating was well within acceptable limits.

Although Black Knight had fulfilled its original purpose, RAE was interested in some of the other phenomena observed during re-entry, and the range at Woomera was equipped with better optical and radar equipment for the gaslight and Dazzle series of flights. The US was also interested in the results, which meant that the programme became a UK/US/Australian collaboration.

BK04 also set up the altitude record for a single stage vehicle until January 1962, when the launch of a Thor lifted an Echo-2-prototype balloon to a height of more than 900 miles.

Could the UK Once Again Become Involved in a Launcher Programme?

In a word, no. There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, there is no infrastructure left. After the Black Arrow cancellation, the facilities at Cowes, at High Down and at Ansty were closed down. With the demise of ELDO, the Rolls Royce facilities were closed, and Spadeadam handed over to the RAF. There was still some work going on with the Falstaff programme designed to assist the Chevaline upgrade to the Polaris system (Chevaline itself also required some rocketry development). Some facilities were kept available until the mid-1990s as a ‘strategic asset’, but even those have gone. A little development work continues at Westcott related to satellite work.

Building new infrastructure would be very difficult. Gone are the days when redundant War Office sites or disused airfield could be pressed into service. The idea of building a rocket test facility at somewhere like High Down is laughable in today’s Britain.

Secondly, the skills have gone. Whilst there may well be plenty of competent engineers available, none will have worked on rocketry systems. Such systems have their own peculiarities. If you have worked on them in the past, you are aware of the pitfalls to be avoided. This is sometimes described as ‘tacit knowledge’ – knowledge you have gained by experience, but which is very difficult to describe. But all those who worked on Blue Streak or Black Knight or Black Arrow have long since retired, and newcomers would have to learn many lessons which once were well known, but that knowledge has gone with the engineers of the past.

Thirdly, there is money. Rocketry demands a lot of money. The folk memory of the Treasury is long, and the experience of ELDO is burned into the collective subconscious of Whitehall. Never mind that it was the Government’s fault in the first place – the money wasted serves as a stark reminder to anyone trying to resurrect the programmes.

On the other hand, space is not all about rockets. Rockets are but a means to an end, and that end is to launch satellites. Part of what is left of de Havilland’s site at Stevenage has, by a long and tortuous path, ended as part of EADS Astrium, and still manufactures satellites, as does another site at Portsmouth, which in 2011 employed 1,400 people. Similarly, Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) is an example of what the Treasury was talking about when it insisted that if space was a profitable business, then private business should get on and do it.

What was left of the Ministry of Aviation became subsumed into the Ministry of Technology, then the Department of Trade and Industry. Now there is a new UK Space Agency, created in April 2010, replacing the British National Space Centre (BNSC) which was an umbrella organisation of ten Government departments, research councils and non-departmental public bodies. The UK civil space programme budget was at that time in the order of £270 million per year – about 76% of which is the UK’s contribution to ESA projects.

There may have been relief in the Treasury and in the Government when the programmes were finally cancelled, but there was a great deal of bitterness among those who had worked on the projects. Let them have the last word: they built rockets with a success rate almost second to none on shoe string resources, and then retired into obscurity. [19]


It has been said that Britain acquired an empire in a fit of absent-mindedness. It might also be said that it acquired a rocketry programme in a similar fit of absent-mindedness. The UK space programme, or rocketry programme, has always been so low key that the public perception is that the UK has never even had a space programme. Yet for a time in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the programme was technically as advanced as any in the world. If it did not achieve the high profiles of Sputnik, Vostok or Apollo, it is in the main because the projects were less ambitious, subject to much greater financial restrictions, and had a more modest goal. Most of the work was driven by the needs of the military. This was true too in the USA and USSR, but there the civilian effort also became caught up in the Cold War propaganda battles. Kennedy’s cry to arms ‘… to put a man on the moon before this decade is out …’ had no resonances in the UK, and the motives that drove many of the other projects in the US were also very often military in origin, even if they have been used in civilian guise. GPS began as a way for nuclear submarines to fix their position so they could launch their missiles more accurately.

It must be admitted at the outset that almost all the work described here began life as a military project designed to obliterate cities and their inhabitants. The biggest project of all described in this book is Blue Streak, whose sole purpose was to launch hydrogen bombs at the USSR. It was only later that its application to a satellite launcher was seized upon as a political fig leaf for an embarrassed Government, and even then many of the potential satellites might well have been military. Likewise, Blue Steel was intended to deliver megaton warheads. Black Knight was a research vehicle whose initial function was to act as a test bed for Blue Streak and to research re-entry vehicles for nuclear warheads. Black Arrow and Skylark were the only major projects discussed here whose applications were intended to be solely civilian and scientific.

In the end, though, the British work on rocketry and satellite launchers died, mainly as a consequence of lack of funding, political vacillation and a perceived lack of need either for satellites or other forms of space research, whether military or commercial. Although now there is a developing and thriving international commercial market for the launching of communications satellites in particular, the British rocketry programme is certainly now completely dead and there is no prospect of resurrection. All the engineers with any relevant experience have retired long ago. All the infrastructure has disappeared. It is ironic that the systems that were built and tested in the 1960s, and then abandoned, could have been commercially successful in the 1980s and 1990s. It was, perhaps, a penalty paid for being too early in the field.

To understand the story fully, we have to go back more than half a century, to the early days of the Cold War. During the Cold War era, the USA and USSR were driven by ideological pressures that the UK did not experience. Each feared the other and their systems of government. In addition, when it came to development and production of hardware, they had vastly greater resources than the UK. Indeed, the USSR can be said to have ‘lost’ the Cold War in the sense that it was driven into final collapse in part by the demands of the military and space programmes on its shaky economy. In some sense that was true for Britain as well: after Blue Streak, there was little further attempt to develop a purely indigenous deterrent system. Since the mid-1960s, the deterrent has been maintained at minimal expense.

Politically, missiles and the nuclear threat meant very different things to the UK compared with the USA and USSR. The UK had no hope of ‘winning’ a nuclear war, given its limited geography (no-one else did, but there was a perception among some in America that a nuclear war was ‘winnable’). America and Russia were driven by a paranoid fear that the one was intent on the other’s destruction, and the ideologies of the two were so far apart as to be virtually irreconcilable, despite ideas of ‘peaceful co-existence’.

The UK had no such geopolitical or ideological dynamic. It had a considerable interest in the state of Europe and the Continental balance of power, as it always has had, but that interest was to be subsumed into NATO, whose purpose, as its first Secretary General, Lord Ismay, put it, was ‘to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down’. The UK had also suffered tremendous economic damage in the Second World War, from which it took a long time to recover. In addition to the expenses of maintaining a far flung Empire, it also had to provide an army of occupation for Germany. One of the problems of wanting to be a Great Power is taking on the burdens and expenses of Great Power status, which Britain was less and less able to do after the war. And then the nuclear factor entered into the equation.

The story of the development of the Bomb is a complicated one, but most of the theoretical and practical work was carried out by European emigres, backed up by American know-how and resources. The UK sent many of its atomic scientists to America. The US and UK agreed to pool information, an agreement that was to fall foul of a later Act of Congress, the McMahon Act. But the British need for nuclear weapons in the immediate post-war period was not that pressing, since the only country that possessed such weapons at that time was America, Britain’s closest ally. Possession of nuclear weapons by the UK would have been useful for the influence they may have carried, but were not at that stage essential to the strategic balance, and would not have had much military significance. They have always been weapons of mass destruction, aimed more at cities than at armies.

As earlier noted, Britain’s interests were in her Empire and in Europe. In neither of these areas were nuclear weapons necessary or desirable. But that picture changed in 1949 with the explosion of the first Russian nuclear device. This was to be the first of the many scares that the Soviet Union was reaching parity with or overtaking the West technologically. The need for a British nuclear device now became that much more pressing since the Soviet Union was now perceived to be the most likely candidate for hostilities within the foreseeable future. Then came all the various nuclear scenarios that were so to bedevil military and political planners. In what circumstances would the UK need to use such weapons? In what circumstances might they be used on the UK? NATO doctrine held that an attack on one was an attack on all, but there was always the unspoken fear – would America risk nuclear annihilation for the sake of London? Or Bristol, or Birmingham? No one wanted to find out, and, fortunately, we never did.

Another factor, which should not be discounted, was that, as mentioned earlier, Britain still regarded herself as one of the leading Powers. If the other two had the Bomb, then Britain should have a Bomb too, not from any intrinsic merit of ownership, but so as to keep a seat at the Top Table. The ‘nuclear club’ was a club she felt she could not afford to be excluded from, yet could only just afford to join.

So work on a British nuclear device began very soon after the war. Soon Britain would have a working device. But there was the problem common to all three powers as to how the Bomb would be delivered. In the early post-war period, there was no alternative to the bomber, and the UK had produced some excellent jet bomber designs in the V bombers – the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan, which were to give sterling service to the UK for many years. Indeed, the Operational Requirement was issued at the end of the war, and nearly 40 years later, Vulcans were used in the Falklands conflict in the bombing role, with Victors in the tanker role.

It was realised in the early 1950s that with the increase in sophistication of missile defences, the V bombers, or bombers in general, would be increasingly vulnerable. Certainly it was expected that the likes of Moscow and other major cities would be surrounded by rings of guided weapons that could take out all but the most major bombing offensive – hence the issue of Operational Requirement OR 1132 in September 1954 for a stand-off missile, which would become Blue Steel. In 1954, the principal problem for such weapons was guidance over a long distance of flight (accuracy decreases with time of flight), and with that in mind, Blue Steel was designed with an operational range of 100 nautical miles. This would keep the bomber clear of Moscow and its attendant defences, although still leaving them with a large amount of hostile territory to cross.

At the same time, the Americans were working on various air-breathing long – range missiles, precursors of the later cruise missile. Ballistic missiles were being worked on by von Braun’s team, and by Convair under Brossart, but neither technology had advanced sufficiently to produce an effective weapons system that could deliver a nuclear device over a range of some thousands of miles. In

1954, Duncan Sandys of the UK and Charles Wilson of the US signed an agreement to share information on the development of ballistic missiles. By

1955, technology, particularly in guidance, had advanced far enough for serious design work to begin on a UK ballistic missile, Blue Streak, with a range sufficient to reach Moscow (the criterion for any UK nuclear delivery system) and beyond. At the same time, a parallel programme, called Black Knight, was also started to carry out some of the basic research, particularly on re-entry vehicles. And America began work on a much longer range missile, Atlas.

At that time, thermonuclear warheads were much more massive than they would subsequently become, and so all the early missiles designed by the US, by the USSR, and by the UK turned out to be far larger than was in the end necessary. This was to have important consequences as far as the Soviet Union and Sputnik were concerned. The enormous ballistic missile that had been developed by the Russians turned out to be much more effective as a satellite launcher. Neither the UK nor the US had designed anything quite as big as the Russian R-7, or Semiorka. Western politicians, often technically ignorant themselves and with axes to grind, assumed that these immensely powerful Russian boosters meant the Russians were that much further ahead in technology. In effect the reverse was true. The West had not built such large rockets because they were not necessary once lighter warheads had been developed.




Semiorka R-7




Atlas E




Blue Streak*








* In its probable configuration if it had been deployed operationally.

All the early Western missiles such as Blue Streak, Thor, Atlas and Titan I, were designed to use kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuels, as did the first Soviet designs. Solid fuel rockets had not yet sufficient size or range given the weight of the warheads of the 1950s. (Minuteman and Polaris were designed assuming warheads would get lighter.) Such large rockets were also very vulnerable to a first strike attack, so would have to be stored in and fired from underground storage silos, hardened against nuclear attack. This added considerably to the expense of the system, and meant in addition that the missile and silo complex itself became a target.

All these missiles were close contemporaries in conception. Where they differed was that America and Russia pressed ahead with development despite the cost.

Development was carried on with Blue Streak as fast as funds allowed, although the whole project was bedevilled throughout its life by Treasury reluctance to release the necessary money. It could be said of the whole history of Blue Streak from 1955 to 1970 that the technical will was there, the political will was there intermittently, and the financial will was never there. It is astonishing how well the morale of those involved with the project stood up in the face of such political and financial uncertainty.

But in 1957 came the shock of Sputnik. The psychological effect on the Americans was considerable, and Atlas, among others, became a crash programme. In more than just the defence field, the US felt it had been overtaken. This led, among other things, to a massive effort in science and technical education. Its effect on British opinion was very much more muted. Britain did not see itself in any technological race, and was not perturbed by the thought of a satellite orbiting overhead. In the US, it was felt almost as an invasion of the country. Britain had suffered bombing of London as early as 1916, but the US had never experienced hostile aircraft in its skies. Sputnik was perceived in those terms.

Curiously enough, the Rand Corporation (and the RAE) had been undertaking studies into reconnaissance satellites, and had recognised that one legal problem might be that a satellite orbiting over another country may be taken as an invasion of the other country’s airspace. This is one of the reasons why the first planned US satellite was intended to be perceived as entirely civilian and part of the 1957 Geophysical Year. Sputnik had resolved this problem at a stroke. The Russians were in no position now to claim invasion of their airspace by American reconnaissance satellites.

Back in the UK, by 1958 the Black Knight rocket programme, intended to provide a lot of the basic research for Blue Streak, was up and running. It would yield a lot of useful information for the UK and the US on the physics of re-entry vehicles, necessary for any ballistic missile system, and also for studies into possible defences against them. The first flight of Blue Streak was planned for 1960, when the decision was taken by the Macmillan Government to cancel the system for military purposes. The reasons for this are complex and will be explored further in the Blue Streak chapters. In the same way that the USSR was eventually driven out of the arms race, so too was the UK, becoming increasingly reliant on the US for delivering its deterrent.

Mainly, I suspect, to minimise the political damage that ensued from the decision, it was announced that although Blue Streak had been cancelled as a weapons system, work would still continue, albeit at a much reduced rate, on developing a satellite launcher based on the missile. At least £60 million (all costs are given as of the period and not corrected for inflation), if not more, including large sums at Woomera by the Australians, had been spent on the project by this stage. A design, which would be known as Black Prince from the Saunders Roe brochure, or more inelegantly in official papers as the BSSLV (Blue Streak Satellite Launch Vehicle), had been under consideration for some time. It would have used Blue Streak as the first stage together with the proven technology of Black Knight as the second stage. Again, though, the major problem was money: one source mentioned that the development costs would amount to half the annual UK university budget, which even given the relatively small university sector in the UK at the time, gave pause for thought. And although the US military had found many uses for satellites, there was not the same perceived need by the UK military, particularly since British Intelligence had access to a good deal of the US information. Although the scientific community would have liked to launch various satellites (a stellar ultraviolet telescope was a favourite project), there were not the funds available in the civilian science research budget. Hence the UK was in danger of building a satellite launcher with no satellites to launch.

The decision was then taken to involve other nations in the project in the hope of sharing the costs. The Old Commonwealth countries were not interested, or lacked the finances and resources. France might be interested, but there was also the opportunity for France to acquire much needed data relevant to its own ballistic missile programme, which led to some difficulties and embarrassment. In the end, the European Launcher Development Organisation, ELDO, was born with little enthusiasm from many of its members. And the ELDO launcher ran into considerable criticism almost from the start, being widely perceived as unnecessary and based on obsolete technology.

The latter criticism was unfounded, although the much slower pace of development in the cash-strapped UK meant that the US tended to be there first. But Blue Streak remained irredeemably tarnished by its cancellation for military purposes. It had, however, the potential to be the equivalent of almost any American launcher until the Saturn vehicles. ELDO was both a political failure and a technical failure. Blue Streak itself performed almost flawlessly, but the same could not be said of the French and German upper stages. One of the reasons for this problem was that the other European countries were a good deal less experienced than Britain; another was that putting together a vehicle designed and built by three different teams of engineers in three different countries, speaking three different languages, was no mean feat. ELDO and its launcher died, never to be resurrected.

And what of the other project, Black Knight? After 22 successful firings, the project was declared at an end. But while the UK was still a member of ELDO, a decision was taken to proceed with an alternative, much smaller satellite launcher, and this would be based on Black Knight. The new design was called Black Arrow.

Two test vehicles were flown, one successful and one not, and then an orbital attempt failed by a small margin. On 29 July 1971, the announcement was made that Black Arrow was cancelled. However, the fourth vehicle was subsequently fired and achieved orbit on 28 October 1971, and that, effectively, was the end of rocketry in the UK. Skylark launches would continue for another 34 years, but there was little further development of the vehicle.

Space science has continued, and the UK has always been successful at building satellites. Indeed, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has been one of the major success stories of the past decade. It is also perhaps an exemplar of what the Treasury was maintaining – that if there is money to be made in space, then let private business get on with it.

Project Names

In the 1950s, the fashion in the UK was to give many of the military projects two word code names, the first of which was a colour: thus Orange Herald, Blue Streak, Yellow Sun, Red Duster, Violet Club, Green Flax and so on. A good code name should reveal nothing about the nature of the project. However, Yellow Sun for an H bomb was a bit of a giveaway, since the sun is a gigantic fusion reactor (or perhaps not: Mark 1 was not what is commonly understood by a ‘hydrogen bomb’, so perhaps there was an element of double bluff).

The rocketry projects covered in this book are Blue Steel, Blue Streak, Black Knight, Black Prince, Black Arrow and the various rocket interceptors. The ‘Black’ designations were applied, albeit unofficially, to research projects without a direct military application; indeed, Black Arrow was entirely civilian, but was named by extension from Black Knight, as probably was Black Prince.

The Rocket Propulsion Establishment (RPE) at Westcott, Buckinghamshire, produced many solid fuel rocket motors. A Superintendent who had been in charge of the Establishment had been a keen ornithologist, and so all the motors produced there were named after birds: Raven, Rook, Cuckoo, Waxwing etc.

The Missile Design

The rocket structure, like Ancient Gaul, could be thought of in three parts: the engine bay at the bottom, the main tank structure containing all the fuel in the missile, and the ancillary equipment, guidance and payload at the top. The engine bay, containing two RZ 2 motors, was 9 ft in diameter (so designed for transport by air), but the elegance of the final shape of the missile was rather spoiled by two panniers either side containing nitrogen to pressurise the kerosene tank. The liquid oxygen tank could be pressurised by oxygen gas derived from the liquid via heat exchangers. So in June 1957, de Havilland stated that

the propellant tanks, constructed of 0.019 inch thick stainless steel, remained unaltered. External stringers on the rear (kerosene) tank would permit the weight of the head to be supported without pressuring the rear tank. This would in turn allow the kerosene to be drained from the missile in the event of a failure occurring on the launcher.18

The upper tank had to be kept pressurised at all times to prevent the structure collapsing under its own weight. These 48 stringers also helped to give Blue Streak its distinctive appearance. Inside the fuel tanks were various baffles to prevent the sloshing of fuel, but missiles such as Blue Streak are not much more than gigantic thin-walled tanks.

For Atlas, skin gauges varied throughout the structure, being tailored to meet local stresses. The heaviest skin gauge was forty thousandths of an inch. By comparison, the skin gauge for Blue Streak was nineteen thousandths, but the lower section, the kerosene tank, was re-inforced with stringers. Blue Streak was simpler in being a pure cylinder, whereas the Atlas tanks tapered at the top. The most probable cause of the failure of such a structure in compression is what is known as Euler buckling – the process that occurs when you step onto an empty soft drinks can. But there were other reasons for the reinforcements.

A structure such as Blue Streak or Atlas is also very vulnerable to sideways bending forces, particularly when transmitting large loads vertically. These can originate from sideways gusts of winds, and also from the act of swivelling the rocket motors off centre for control purposes. Indeed, the two motors were to be inclined inwards slightly so that their thrust lines passed through the centre of gravity of the missile. Another problem to which liquid fuel rockets are prone is ‘sloshing’ which occurs when the liquid sloshes from side to side in the tanks as the vehicle rocks. Although it is often said that Blue Streak performed impeccably for ELDO in the 1960s and 1970s, this is not quite true. Sloshing of the fuel towards the very end of the first flight, F1, on 5 June 1964, overcame the control system and caused the missile to tumble uncontrollably.

The most important parameter for a ballistic rocket using no aerodynamic lift forces is the engine thrust. Two of the RZ 2 motors (see Figure 39) gave a thrust of 270,000 lb. Given that the smallest practicable initial acceleration is 0.3 g (and there is a good case to make this bigger in a missile) then the lift-off weight is of the order of 200,000 lb. Some of this, perhaps 4,000 lb, is payload. The rest is divided between fuel and structure, so that structure plus fuel amounts to 196,000 lb. Given 10% as structure, as an arbitrary figure, then this gives fuel weight as around 175,000 lb. Given the densities of the fuels, their volumes can be calculated. Given a diameter for the rocket – say 10 ft – then the length of the tanks can be estimated. Using these ‘back of the envelope’ calculations, then the outline of Blue Streak is quite easily arrived at. For comparison, the F1 vehicle with a dummy load of a ton, had a lift off mass of 205,000 lb, 190,000 lb of which was fuel. Detailed design is, of course, another matter.

Some of the design details were more obvious than others – for example, the tanks needed pressurising. For the oxygen tank this was simple enough: a small amount of the liquid can be vapourised in a heat exchanger and piped up to the tank. Pressurising the kerosene tank with oxygen gas would not have been a good idea: instead, nitrogen gas was used, being stored in spherical bottles in panniers either side of the engine bay.

Whilst the tank section was to be built and tested at de Havilland’s site at Hatfield, testing the rocket motors was another matter. A purpose-built site would be needed for engine development and also for static firing of the complete vehicle. Not only would this be extremely noisy, it was potentially quite hazardous given the amount of combustible fuel contained within Blue Streak’s tanks. The site chosen was Spadeadam on the moors near Carlisle.

The Missile Design

Figure 39. The Rolls Royce RZ 2 rocket motors that powered Blue Streak.

The Treasury was of course concerned with the cost: an estimate of £10.2 million for the construction of the Spadeadam site in April 1956 had become £12.3 million by October (and the final cost would be much higher). There is an interesting comment in a slightly later memo:

If a decision were taken to stop work on the MRBM… there would be a saving of some £70m. or more over the next ten years.19

If only the total cost had come to a mere £70 million! The decision to go ahead with Blue Streak was not yet firm at this time, and a further memo noted:

… it is probable that in the Policy Review a choice may have to be made between the supersonic bomber and the MRBM as research and development projects. The cost of R. and D. for the supersonic bomber would be about £70 million over the next 10 years – roughly the same figures as those for the MRBM, but the costs of producing and maintaining an appropriate number of supersonic bombers . would probably be higher than the costs of an appropriate number of MRBMs.20

Spadeadam was split into five areas: the Administration area; the liquid oxygen factory, which was owned and run by the British Oxygen Company; the Component Test Area situated at Rushy Knowe; the Engine Test Area at Prior Lancy; and the Rocket Test Area situated at Greymare Hill.

The site is described in a Ministry of Aviation paper of November 1961 (the English is slightly eccentric at times):

The Spadeadam Rocket Establishment was built by the Ministry of Works on behalf of the Ministry of Aviation for the purpose of developing and the static testing of the British Ballistic Missile ‘Blue Streak’.

The Establishment is situated on the Cumberland Fells about twenty miles North-east of Carlisle and covers an area of approximately 8,000 acres. It comprises five main areas, three of which are test areas for the static testing of the complete missile, propulsion units and of the rocket engine component parts respectively.

As a safety measure these areas are separated by distances of up to one and three-quarter miles. This dispersion has required the construction of six miles of road connecting the ‘Areas’ on the Establishment.


This Test Area comprises two missile stands each with a traversing servicing tower on which the missiles are statically tested including the firing of the propulsion units.

By means of the gantry incorporated in the servicing tower, the missile is erected into the vertical firing position on the concrete emplacement situated at the end of a 300-ft concrete causeway.

Built into the emplacement is a steel flame deflector weighing nearly seventy tons for deflecting to the horizontal plane the jets of the rocket motors.

The large quantity of water required to maintain the temperature of the flame deflectors at a safe temperature level is pumped to the test stands via 36" diameter pipelines supplied from a one-million gallon reservoir situated adjacent to the Missile Test Area.

The necessary liquid propellants and high pressure nitrogen gas used for pressurising are stored in this area.

The Missile tests are instrumentated and controlled remotely from a central block­house situated approximately 1000-ft. from the test stands (both of which stands will be evacuated when firing is taking place on either stand) built of reinforced concrete. The tests may be observed from the Control Block-house by means of periscopes and closed-circuit television. In addition to the recording of test data on magnetic tape, film records of the tests are made by cine-cameras situated at strategic points around the test stand.

The main Instrumentation System comprises 19 Control Consoles, 4 Checkout Consoles, (46 Chart-type Recorders) with a capacity of 285 channels and three types of magnetic tape recorders with a total of 32 Information Channels. The Control Centre and each test Stand are connected by over 3,500 wires.


This area, in which the individual propulsion units are test fired, consists of three engine test stands… spaced 250-ft apart. A fourth test stand is partially complete.

Each stand consists of a massive concrete and steel structure in which the liquid propellant rocket engines are mounted to fire vertically downwards into a water cooled flame deflector which deflects the flame into the horizontal plane. The propellants used are Kerosine for the fuel and liquid oxygen for the oxidant. The early engine produced and evaluated by R-R Ltd. developed 135,000-lb thrust.

The Missile Design

Figure 40. The picture above shows a flight model Blue Streak (note the painted spiral) on a test stand at Spadeadam. The vehicle would be assembled, filled with fuel, and static fired before being shipped out to Woomera in Australia for launch.

The quantity of water used for flame deflector cooling, storage facilities and transfer systems are similar to those provided in the Missile Test Area.

At a distance of 600-ft from the nearest Engine Test Stand is the Control Block­house constructed of 2-ft thick reinforced concrete. This building is equipped with 130 chart-type recording instruments, four 24-channel oscillographs and, when fully equipped, eight control consoles for the remote control of the test equipment and the rocket engine during test. A large number of chart recording instruments are needed to obtain the maximum amount of technical data during the short duration of the test.

An underground concrete duct, 7-ft square and 1,100-ft in length, inter-connects the test stands with the control room for the routing of approximately 8,000 instrumentation and control cables.

The test firings are also recorded by cine-cameras from various locations around the test stands, the cameras being controlled remotely from the control room. These filmed records in addition to the other test records are processed and analysed in the Establishment.


Single stage. Launched 17 October 1963. Apogee 322 miles.

This was launched in support of the ELDO programme, and was designed to test the safety systems and the broadband telemetry. The interim report issued after the flight had this to say:

Two WREBUS [Weapons Research Establishment Break Up System] command destruct systems were tested with a comprehensive programme during the whole of the flight. One WREBUS system was commanded by a transmitter located at Red Lake, and the other by a temporary low-power installation at the rangehead. The test programme featured both manual and automatic command functions.

… During the whole of the flight the broadband telemetry system… functioned well and records of equipment monitoring were obtained.4

A second vehicle, BK10, was in reserve in case the tests had to be repeated. Since the flight had met all its objectives, BK10 was never fired and is now in the World Museum, Liverpool.



Figure 99. The re-entry heads of Project Dazzle.


Подпись:The final six Black Knight launches were part of Project Dazzle, and the various re-entry heads can be seen in Figure 99 above. The range instrumentation was greatly improved, as can be seen in the pictures above.5 The purpose of these flights was to study re­entry phenomena more closely. Dazzle was a joint UK/US/Australian project – the UK providing the vehicles and re-entry heads, Australia supplying the range facilities, and the US supplying much of the instrumentation.


Whilst the major policy issues were the province of the politicians, the day-to­day or month-to-month work was carried out by officials at the various Ministries. One of the most influential, by virtue of his post, was CGWL, or Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics at the Ministry of Supply and its successors. For almost all the period, with a break of two years, Sir Steuart Mitchell held the post. From the Ministry papers he appears to be a sensible and capable administrator. Dr Robert Cockburn filled the break.

However, delving deeper into the Ministries, one drowns in a soup of alphabetic titles: in the RAF there was VCAS (Vice Chief of the Air Staff, who dealt with nuclear matters); DCAS, the Deputy Chief; DCAS (OR) Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Operational Requirements). There was DRAE (Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment); DDRAE (his deputy); DAWRE (Director of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment) and DDAWRE, his deputy. Then there are all the Ministry and Establishment departments with their heads: Guided Weapons, Space Department, and so on. Ministries have Private Secretaries (PS), Permanent Under Secretaries (PUS), and varieties of subordinate secretaries. It was part of their job to turn policy into hardware. But they were also responsible for the papers that went to Ministers, and, as a result, a good deal of the policy was made at a lower level than is often supposed.

Blue Streak with a Centaur Upper Stage

Late in the Blue Streak saga, HSD published a brochure which was interesting technically, even if the chances of the British Government being interested in it were remote. The brochure has the look and feel of one put together in a hasty or cursory fashion – all the text is in block capitals – and does not really do justice to the proposal, except in the artwork.13

The proposal was for a Blue Streak launcher with an American Centaur D1 upper stage, built in Europe under licence (rather cannily, the brochure says ‘Europe’ rather than ‘Britain’!). Optional French L17 strap-on boosters were proposed as an optional extra. As to the payload, the brochure states:

Performance in geostationary orbit

Подпись:without strap-on boosters

– with two L17 boosters

– with four L17 boosters

(grouped in two pairs)

More tellingly, it goes on to say ‘Typical payload ranges are quoted – actual capability for specific payload requires detailed study of optimised trajectory and earliest permissible fairing jettison time’ – in other words, the figures quoted are estimates rather than being the result of any precise calculations. They do seem reasonable, and the brochure says ‘performance capability is higher than the proposed Europa III’ – which was true up to a point. There is a drawback in the sense that the vehicle has been stretched as far as possible, and had really reached the limit of its performance.

The proposed launch site was Kourou in French Guiana, which, like the rest of the proposal was technically feasible but politically completely impractical.

One technical side note: Centaur was the only other rocket stage, apart from Atlas and Blue Streak, built using pressurised stainless steel ‘balloon’ tanks. Centaur was originally designed to go on top of Atlas, hence the similarity in construction. In that sense, Blue Streak and Centaur were well suited. The Centaur stage had some teething problems, but by 1970 was a well-tested and proven design.


Blue Streak with a Centaur Upper Stage
Подпись: 11049
Подпись: 12200
Blue Streak with a Centaur Upper Stage
Blue Streak with a Centaur Upper Stage
Подпись: 14558
Подпись: -DATUM

Blue Streak with a Centaur Upper StageBLUE STREAK VEHICLE PLUS 2xL17 BOOSTERS WITH


Figure 61. HSD’s proposal for mounting the American Centaur stage on Blue Streak.

The other major advantage of the proposal was that by comparison with the ELDO design, and any possible Europa III designs, all the components were flight-proven, and the bugs ironed out. But interesting though the idea might have been, it was a product without a customer. The UK was determined to have nothing more to do with launchers; any new European launcher would be French led, and use of an American stage, even built under licence, would have been a non-starter. [7] [8]

R1 – 4 March 1970

R1 - 4 March 1970The cause of the failure of R0 was relatively simple, but it was decided to repeat the flight, so that the R1 launch was an exact repeat of R0. This time the vehicle behaved exactly as intended.

R2 – 2 September 1970

R2 was launched on 2 September

1970, carrying a spherical

satellite, christened Orba, as its

payload. This was intended to be

a very simple satellite (there was

no money in the budget for

anything more complicated) to

measure the atmospheric drag in

low orbits by observing its orbital Fgure 116 The Orba satellite on top of the

Waxwing motor.

decay. Figure 116 shows the

satellite on top of the Waxwing motor, whilst the payload shrouds are being fitted around it.

The first stage was completely successful, but the second stage shut down 15 seconds early, leaving 30% of the HTP unburned. This turned out to be due to a leak in the HTP tank pressurisation system, with the result that the nitrogen gas ran out early and so there was no pressure in the tank to help feed the propellants. With insufficient pressure the turbopumps cavitate and their effectiveness is much reduced. Hence the second stage thrust dropped to almost nothing. The third stage separated correctly, and fired, but the velocity was insufficient to reach orbit, and the payload crashed into the Gulf of Carpentaria. There were other problems which the subsequent RAE report describes:

Two other defects were recorded during the flight:

The solenoid start switch in the attitude control system failed to latch open on first initiation.

Only one of the two fairings separated correctly from the vehicle at the correct time – separation of the remaining section was delayed until third stage spin up.18

In addition to the drop in pressure in the HTP tank, either of these faults would have prevented the vehicle reaching orbit.

After this flight, an extensive review of the vehicle was set in motion, with eleven technical panels being set up. They began their work in December 1970, and submitted reports and recommendations by the end of June 1971. Relatively few deficiencies were found, and most of these related to the problems that had cropped up in the three development launches. Ian Peattie, who was the Project Officer at RAE for the launch vehicle, commented wryly that the review achieved its objective ‘once certain panel members were persuaded that a fundamental re-design of the launch vehicle was not within the terms of reference.’

Ion Motors

Ion motors are an extremely promising technology, and have remained mainly at the ‘extremely promising’ stage for the past 40 years. Instead of converting chemical energy into kinetic, as in conventional motors, it converts electrical energy into kinetic. This is done by ionising atoms, then accelerating them through a very large voltage. The main problem is that the only source of electrical energy in space (other than a nuclear reactor) comes from sunlight via solar panels. The amount of energy is not great, and thus the thrust available is small.

The RAE began investigating ion motors as early as 1963. Initial thoughts were for an attitude control and station-keeping capability. Another possibility emerged as a requirement for a high energy upper stage for the Black Arrow launcher, utilising the spiral orbit-raising principle from an initial low altitude parking orbit.

Подпись: Figure 20. The T1 at the RAE. Подпись: ion motor developedIon MotorsInterestingly, at that time ELDO was also considering the augmentation of the payload capability of its launch vehicle by the same means.

The initial designs used mercury: an ion accelerating

potential of about 1.5 kV was chosen, giving a S. I. of close to

3,0 s. The success of the initial

tests with the T1 thruster resulted in the design of a new device, the T2, for which a 10 cm beam diameter was selected to provide a thrust of 10 mN with a beam accelerating potential of 2 kV.10

10 mN thrust might be adequate for attitude control, but not for orbital adjustment. Further development has continued, with the main change being the substitution of xenon gas for mercury as the fuel, but the further story is rather beyond the scope of this book.

As a measure of the work being done by British firms on rocketry, the following figures were given in 1961 for the total expenditure to date (i. e., effectively, since the war):

£ in millions



Double Scorpion de Havilland:



Sprite & Super Sprite







Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd:












PR.37/2 (Jindivik)









Rolls Royce:

Blue Streak



Supply of HTP



These costings do not include the work done at RPE Westcott, which was considerable. The series of motors leading up to Gamma (Alpha and Beta) were developed there in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Rolls Royce used Westcott’s facilities for early RZ 2 work, and RPE also had its own on-going liquid hydrogen work. In addition, Westcott was a major centre for the development of solid fuel motors.

However, by 1968 the picture had changed radically. Napier no longer existed, de Havilland were doing no more work on rocket motors. Bristol Siddeley and Rolls Royce had been amalgamated. There was just the one firm, and work was shrinking. Val Cleaver, in charge of the rocketry work at Rolls Royce, wrote to the Ministry of Technology to ask how he could keep his team together:

In this atmosphere, it is hard to maintain staff morale, or to retain the good people. Many of our best men have gone out of rocket work over the years (apart from a few who have left our projects, only to emigrate to the States), and we have been able to justify the recruitment of only a mere handful of bright youngsters in recent years.

The Director General (Engineering) at the Ministry of Technology then wrote to CGWL to explain:

My object in encouraging Cleaver to write to you was the conviction that the presently foreseen programme of liquid rocketry development implies the winding up of Rolls Royce’s R&D activity in this field by the early seventies, and the facts need to be faced now, both by Mintech and by the Rolls Royce management.

He then went on to give the following figures for future planned expenditure, based on no further commitments to ELDO, one Black Arrow firing a year, and a limited programme on packaged propellants:

Year: 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971

Expenditure: 1.656 1.900 1.117 0.667 0.437

(in £ million)

It is not clear whether this includes work on the RZ 20 liquid hydrogen motor, which was being carried out under an ELDO contract (and part of the funding had come from Rolls Royce itself).

Indeed, one of Cleaver’s complaints was that it was all obsolescent technology. The RZ 2 had been designed in 1955, 13 years earlier, and although since refined, there was nothing further to be done with it. Similarly with the HTP work: all that was left was derivatives of the Gamma motor, which had started life again in the mid-1950s as the small chamber from the Stentor engine. The liquid hydrogen work was being run on a shoe string.

In the event, work effectively finished in 1971, with the demise of Black Arrow and of Europa. Since then there has been no significant rocketry work done in the UK.


Single stage. Launched 29 June 1959 at 21:03. Apogee 275 miles.

BK05, a re-entry experiment using a double cone eroding head, was designed for greater penetration at high speed into the atmosphere with the object of obtaining much greater heating, particularly in the nose cone which was made of doorstops. A complicated parachute recovery system was built into the head in an attempt to prevent damage to the nose cone on impact.

Overheating in the propulsion bay, as in BK03 (unfortunately not confirmed until after BK05) again caused premature engine cut-out resulting in a reduced re-entry velocity.

A hitherto unsuspected long decay time of thrust at engine shut-down resulted in collision of body and head at separation. The body telemetry continued to function to re-entry but head telemetry ceased just after head separation. The head aerial was probably broken by the impact with the body. The head was recovered and it was found that the parachute had torn out the inner core of the head and the base dome had been pulled off. Early deployment of the parachute would have resulted in excessive drag loads and it can only be assumed that this happened.

Some supporting evidence is that the barometric switch used to deploy the parachute was found on recovery to operate at a pressure equivalent to 22,000 ft instead of the expected height of 10,000 ft. However, the trial was not a complete failure since recovery of the head yielded data on erosion, albeit at a lower re­entry speed than intended.